The sad state of Customer Service

I’ve been hyping iBurst in the past week or so… its Amazing!  However their customer support is not so amazing.  They’ve not yet launched commercially, but they have a great service! It kick’s Telkom‘s butt!  Yeah, lots of people have complained over at, but iBurst is working on the problems and they are getting fixed – even if it is happening slowly.  Fortunately I’m not experiencing 1/2 the problems that some other people seem to have.  However today I experienced their call centre, and I was not impressed.  It reminded me of dealing with “other banks” before I moved to 20Twenty, it reminded me of a call I made to MNet recently…

You see, my decoder had been fried, so I took it in to be swapped out… (I have analog MNet, not DSTV) The lady behind the desk tuned it all for me before I left their customer support desk, but she made a slight mistake.  When I got home, I made sure that the TV was tuned into the decoder’s signal properly, but for some reason my MNet channel was fuzzy…  If I put the decoder onto the CSN channel (also an encoded channel), the picture was perfect… So I assumed that either the lady at the support desk didn’t tune it right, or there was a problem with one of their transmitters.  I waited a few days and it didn’t clear up, so I called them.  I asked if there were problems with their transmitters and they said no, so I asked them to tell me how to tune my decoder so that I could fix the problem. (I also explained the problem to them)… The lady proceeded to ask me to test that my TV was tuned into the Decoder correctly – even though I’d already told her that it was.  She then proceeded to tell me that
   a) my decoder must therefore be faulty,
   b) my arial was incorrectly positioned, or
   c) my decoder needed to be “cleared” (or something like that)…

A) My decoder was not faulty, because it could display CSN at home, and it could display the MNet pretty clearly at home, and it was clear when it was tuned at their offices
B) It was highly unlikely that my arial had “fallen down” in hour it took me to take the old decoder to their offices, and return with the new one.  And anyway, if my arial was broken, surely I wouldn’t get CSN clearly either?
C) My decoder was decoding fine, there were no error messages on the screen

All I wanted was for her to tell me how to tune it… So I told her that, to which she responded “Sir, you called us for help, so let me help you”.  That just pissed me off, I knew what the problem was, I’d explained the same things to her about 5 times already, and still she was trying to get me to flick the “test” switch at the back of the decoder to check that it really was tuned in ok and that I hadn’t lied to her the previous 5 times.  Eventually I kinda lost it with her, and she put me on hold… When she came back she asked me a few more questions and said in an “I told you so” type tone – “Sir, it sounds like you need to re-tune your decoder.”  Now I was livid, so I pointed out that that was EXACTLY what I’d asked her to tell me how to do 20 minutes ago when I first spoke to her.  She eventually explained how to do it, and within 5 minutes I had my MNet signal back up and running perfectly.

That’s how I felt this morning talking to iBurst support.  I take the modem to work with me (in Centurion) so that I can stream audio and check my mail, and its worked fine for the past week.  This morning I could “dial in” and logon, but after that nothing worked… I could ping one of the iBurst routers, but nothing more.  So I called, and spoke to “Sheila”.  I was first told that my PC’s settings were wrong and so it was my fault.  But I was able to work perfectly for the past week, so surely then iBurst must have changed something… “No sir, someone must have changed a setting on your PC to make it not work”.  I mean, do I sound so totally dense on the phone that she thinks I’ll buy that?  Anyway, she shows me how to set my MTU and TCP Recieve Window (or something like that)… and oddly enough the MTU setting she gave me is not the one that they recommend you use in their FAQ. So I now really don’t trust her advice (as if I did before this point).  So I ask her what iBurst has changed, since nothing had changed on my PC, and she suggested that perhaps I was connecting via the Sandton base station “because they’re experiencing authentication problems there”.  Sandton is about 40km away, so there is NO WAY I’d be picking up their signal – all she had to do was to ask for my UTID and she could find out which base station I was connected to – but she didn’t bother to do that.  And anyway, I wasn’t having authentication problems, I’d logged in fine.  But I dutifully changed my MTU settings, and had to reboot my PC.  So I said I’d call her back when it was up again.

It was no suprise that her MTU change didn’t help at all, so I called again.  This time talking to someone else who “put me on hold” (a.k.a moved the mouthpiece away from their mouth while they proceeded to chat to some of the other call center agents, leaving me to listen in to their conversation).  Eventually she tells me that Sheila is still busy, and would I let her call me back. (I’ve read many stories about these famous call back’s… they all say the same thing – it never happens) So I asked if she could perhaps help me.  I told her the story and almost immediately she says that yes, they do have a problem in Centurion.  After some more questioning I find out that she’s not sure what it is or when it will be fixed.  I also ask her why Sheila didn’t tell me that after my first call, and why they haven’t logged it on the incident report page on their website.  For both questions she doesn’t really know… But if I keep trying, it will come right. So I accept that, and go back to trying…

Soon afterwards (11pm), I get a bit peeved at the way the call was handled – so I e-mail the help desk, one of their more public client contacts, and the guys at FusionReactor (who sold me the solution) – basically I just want to raise awareness of the problem, and the negative impact their call center is having.

Around 1pm or so I call again because its still not working, and there still is no report on their incident reporting page.  This time I speak to Tsepo who tells me that they’re having problems with their radio connections in Pretoria East and Centurion.  I ask when it will be fixed, he says he doesn’t know but they’ve just sent technicians out. I ask why its not listed on their incident report page, and he says he doesn’t know.  I get more peeved because “we’ve just sent technicians” at 1pm, when my first call reporting the problem came through at about 9:30am! Anyway, at least he says he’ll call me back when its fixed, so I foolishly believe him.

At 3pm, I get an e-mail from their Chief Technical Officer, and the guy who is “one of their more public client contacts” (I can’t remember his title off hand, but his name is Shaun).  Both apologise and ask for my phone number so that they can call me.  About 30 minutes later I get a call from Shaun.  He apologises and lets me know what the situation is, and says that he’s hoping it will be fixed by the end of the day, he gave me his cell phone number incase it doesn’t get fixed.  I basically try to tell him that my concern is more for the fact that such an amazing technology is having its reputation ruined by a small group of people in their call center. (Read the comments on for more info on that)  And I think I requested again that someone log the incident on their incident report page.

At 7:48pm I get a response from FusionReactor (I’d seen his communication to the Chief Technical Officer, so I knew that he had been getting involved), he basically says what I already knew… They’re busy fine tuning the system, and adding new base stations and so while its unfortunate that the problems arise, they will be fixed by launch… Oddly enough it seems from their responses as if I am one of the few people who is quite happy with the service and who understands that there will be some problems while its basically being beta tested. (Fortunately I actually have had very few problems)…  My biggest frustration is that iBurst offer an amazing service at an excellent cost, and I wouldn’t change to any of the other options we have available in South Africa because they all seem to be so inferior (personal bias)… BUT the “brand”, reputation, trust, and integrity of the company and their amazing service is being sorely let down by bad communication, and a call center that’s not very well skilled in the art of Public Relations, Care, Honesty and Professionalism.  Oh, and there still is no log on their incident report about what went wrong today in Centurion, and now that I think about it, I didn’t even see anything about their authentication problems in Sandton… So why even have an incident report page if they’re not going to use it?

I guess what makes me even more frustrated is that they’re not alone in their lack of communication.  Many SA companies have made the same mistakes, even Microsoft made that mistake but at least Microsoft is learning (e.g. the whole blogging movement in microsoft)… I can’t say it enough… iBurst is excellent, their support however leaves something to be desired.  I actually dread my next call to them, and that is NOT a good thing when they are the only representatives of iBurst that I have contact with now that I’m a client of theirs. 

Maybe I’m also frustrated because I know how it feels to be inside a company where you care about its products, but where your enthusiasm for the company/product is not shared by those who deal with clients all day.  Shaun seems to be in that position.  I’ve been there before – the techies tell you something which you pass on to customers, only to find out that the techies lied, or didn’t do what they promised, and so you end up with egg on your face dealing with frustrated clients all the time because someone else didn’t care enough to actually help the clients who are paying for their salaries.  That was one of the reasons I ended up leaving one of my previous employers – it becomes very draining to continually fight the same battles hoping that something will change in the attitudes of the people who are the first contact for frustrated clients.  So I do not envy the situation that Shaun is in, and I certainly hope his company recognises it before its too late. 

I ended up with migranes every weekend, a fairly shattered social life, failing health due to stress, and a great fear every morning before I had to go into work…  I know that Shaun was off sick a few times in the past month, so I hope he’s not going through what happened to me… and I certainly hope that something changes for the better very soon.

[Update: I got called by Shaun and the CTO of iBurst this morning.  The CTO explained well what went wrong, and said that basically the Help Desk guys will be logging everything on the incident report system, but for now they’re basically moving so fast rolling out the services before the launch that it gets left out sometimes, and it is a priority for them. He sounds like a really nice guy, and it sounds like they’re looking at improving the entire Help Desk experience from top to bottom.  And I can live with that, after all, we’re the beta testers of their service, so we can’t expect it to be 100% functional.  The network is awesome so I don’t mind a few hassles.;-)]

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